on 9 April 2011
"The Perils of Penelope Pitstop" is one of two spin-off shows from "Wacky Races", but is often overshadowed by "Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines", which had more episodes, a larger fanbase, and had more screen-time when it was repeated on Cartoon Network and Boomerang. Aside from a rerun in the 1990's on Cartoon Network, I don't think this show has been re-aired at all, which is a pity, because it is a very fine series indeed.
The show, which draws inspiration from "The Perils of Pauline" and the movies of the Keystone Kops, features Penelope Pitstop as the heiress to a vast fortune, and is in constant peril from her guardian, Sylvester Sneakly, who adopts the mantle of the Hooded Claw to try and kill Penelope so that he can claim the fortune as his own. The only things that stand in his way are the Ant Hill Mob (now Penelope's bodyguards and no longer crooked gangsters as they were in "Wacky Races"), as well as Penelope's own resourcefulness. Each episode is 30 minutes of madcap hilarity that is both a gentle homage to the silent films of the 1920's, and a zany slapstick extravaganza that makes each episode so enjoyable.
The Ant Hill Mob are ultimately the stars of the show, goofing up their own plans to rescue Penelope, but still somehow manage to rescue her anyway. It brings to mind "Scooby Doo Where Are You!", where the traps laid in every single episode malfunction thanks to the bungling of Shaggy and Scooby, but the crook is always caught in the end. That was what made the show for me - no matter how big a clutz you are, you can still do it if you just put your mind to it. Plus, it's more fun that way!
I strongly urge everybody to watch this show - it may not be "Dastardly and Muttley", but it still manages to entertain in its own special way.
This looks like shaping up to be one of the most challenging reviews that I'll probably ever feel compelled to try and write around here.
I mean, I've got such a huge amount of work to do. After all, the star of the show - whose laugh and 'Blast!' catchphrase alone provide a huge amount of the entertainment - is not even named in the closing credits. In addition to which, the details given here on Amazon relating to the length of the discs seem to have gone completely kerflooey. There's also the small matter of my wanting to get this review written as quickly as possible so I can get back to 'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop' and spend some more quality time with a cartoon character I've had a crazy man-crush on for years.
Or, failing that, maybe I'll investigate the man-crush on the actor behind that character that I seem to have developed relatively recently. Considering that he was as camp as a field full of tents (and that I'm not... AM I??!), I'm not quite sure what to make of that.
Oh yes - I've got some work to do alright.
First things first: the information in the product description which gives a running time of just over two hours for this complete collection is, to put it kindly, complete cobblers. Suffice it to say, there were 17 half-hour episodes of this brilliantly inventive show made back in 1969... and this 3-disc collection contains them all. Plus a few extra features.
Oh, one thing before I go any further... I wouldn't normally go OTT on the alliteration aspect of review-writing. The thing is though, a key component of this show is the narrator - and he gets many laughs with his masterful manipulation of my mother-tongue by this method. In trying to drum up a decent account of this distinguished dialogue, I feel duty-bound to dip into that sort of thing myself.
'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop' is a 'Wacky Races' spin-off featuring Miss Pitstop (who, it turns out, is the heiress to a vast fortune) and The Anthill Mob, whose presence in the series - together with their car, Chug-a-Boom - is never properly explained, but who must make at least minimum wage by moonlighting as unofficial bodyguards to L'il Ol' Her as she roams the regions of the globe for no real reason. Actually, it usually works out that it's her getting THEM out of a bind but, whatever. Why does she need personal protection from seven rather hopeless people? Ah well, her guardian, one Sylvester Sneekly - alias 'The Hooded Claw' (who, despite having a penchant for disguises, still wouldn't fool anyone - EXCEPT for Miss Penelope) - assiduously spends every episode trying to brazenly bump her off in order to get his hands on her dough.
In an homage to the silent-film era, he doesn't just do her in and have done with it. Oh no! Taking a leaf right out of Wile E Coyote's ACME catalogue, he's more interested in coming up with devilishly daft but devious schemes to bring about her demise. These, of course, never work out as they should. Not least because most of them seem to defy the laws of physics. The narrator is often able to get the characters - most especially The Hooded Claw - to 'break the fourth wall', which makes for some incredibly comic conversations.
To complete the line-up we have the Claw's henchmen, the Bully Brothers, who are built like brick outhouses but who can't boast of too many brain cells between them.
I know the idea of a mad marauding would-be murderer making Miss Penelope's life a misery in his mission to make it over and done with rather messily doesn't immediately scream 'Fantastic comedy - love it!', but it really should.
'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop' doesn't seem to be as noteworthy these days as 'Wacky Races' or even 'Dastardly and Muttley', its fellow spin-off from that show. Nevertheless, I can guarantee that anyone of my sort of age will have very fond memories of The Hooded Claw's crafty but contagious cackle and Miss Penelope's anatomically impossible style of energetic escape. I won't embarrass the whole lot of us by getting into either rough estimates or actual figures here but, I slightly predate GCSEs and, when I was a kid, Noel Edmonds was the epitome of hip, cool and trendy.
This show is, quite simply, an absolute classic. Admittedly, many things that came out of the Hanna-Barbera studios were absolute classics thanks to the writing, the characters, the music and, perhaps most importantly of all, to the voice skills of people like Don Messick, Mel Blanc and Paul Winchell, all of whom feature heavily here (those three great gentlemen also brought Scooby-Doo, Barney Rubble and Dick Dastardly himself to life - along with a whole host of others). However, 'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop' also showcases the vocal talents of the late great Paul Lynde.
Since his name does not appear in the credits, it took me years to finally put a face to the voice. The poor guy died in 1982 and, were it not for the wonders of YouTube and IMDb, his creative brilliance in these seventeen episodes would probably have been all I would ever have seen or heard of him.
It seems that we British only really got this example of his life and career exported to us. Meanwhile, back in the United States, he was so famous for being the centre square on 'Hollywood Squares' that this particular voiceover gig for Hanna-Barbera appears to have fallen through the cracks as far as plaudits are concerned.
The discs come with subtitles in English, French, Italian and Dutch, as well as something calling itself 'English for the hearing impaired' and something else which might well be 'Italian for the hearing impaired' but which I can't really vouch for for certain because, well, it's in Italian. Meanwhile, you can also listen to things in English, French or Italian. I actually do that on occasion, simply to prove to myself just how perfectly cast Paul Lynde was. His laughter is infectious, and his characterisation is a joy to listen to. The French and Italian guys meanwhile, sound like they've been plucked from the darkest recesses of an EU voice-casting bin.
As far as the Extras are concerned, Disc 3 features a few trailers of other cartoon shows while Disc 2 has something that is equally pointless really, a featurette entitled 'The Players in Perils'. I watched it once, reflected upon the fact that I would never get that time back, and resolved never to waste any more of my life watching it again. The short extra called 'Penelope Pitstop's Spinouts', which largely involves animation historians talking about the show, is a slightly more worthwhile viewing experience: however, it is really only Disc 1 that offers anything decent, in the form of two highly informative and surprisingly entertaining commentaries.
My advice to anyone watching 'The Perils of Penelope Pitstop' for the first time would be to watch the action with the help of those commentaries first (they're on episodes 1 and 6), because they help to explain some of the daft things about this cartoon show as well as providing some very interesting background on the technical side. Janet Waldo and Gary Owens (Ms Pitstop and the Narrator) are joined by Iwao Takamoto, who was the Designer. I haven't quite figured out whether the additional two guest animators ever actually worked on this project or not, but they're interesting to listen to regardless.
Being even more diabolically daft than The Hooded Claw myself, I didn't originally send for this for myself. Instead, I bought it for my two little relatives, aged 7 and 10... and then forgot all about it: which was flaming foolish of me, and that's a fact. When I went round to their residence recently, they seemed very much attached to it... but that didn't stop me from swiftly coming to my senses, surreptitiously slipping it into my man-bag and stealing it back before sliding out of the side-door.
They think they're actually going to see it again... but they're not. Well, their mother will probably make me buy them another one, but she'll have to catch me first.
Cue maniacal laughter, a swirl of my cloak and a mischievious raise of my eyebrows.
Blast! It's not the sort of look I can really pull off.
Paul Lynde does it SO much better!
on 23 September 2009
Heiress Penelope Pitstop is in perpetual peril from her fortune hunting guardian Sylvester Sneakly, who, disguised as the Hooded Claw, attempts to bump her off in order to get his hands on her rather vast fortune. His plans are thwarted by Penelope's heroes, the Ant Hill mob and their car Chug-A-Boom, who always come to the rescue in the nick of time.
Penelope is a resourceful gal; how fortunate she always seems to have a nail file or hair grip to help free herself - despite her hands being tied. And look, she doesn't run, but leaps balletically. How charmin! But it is strange that she cannot work out that the Hooded Claw is really her guardian in disguise.
And the gallant Ant Hill mob; what they lack in stature, they sure make up in bravery employing ingenious methods to get Penelope out of some sticky situations.
The star of the show is the Hooded Claw, who whatever disguise he assumes, always makes sure his pince-nez is securely in place and who dreams up ever more elaborate Heath Robinson contraptions designed to eliminate our heroine -"this one's a doozy, Pitstop". But, what's this, why is Paul Lynde, who voices the Hooded Claw, not credited in the end sequences? What dastardly fiend has had a hand in this appalling omission?
I do declare this is the campest cartoon I have ever seen!